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Peters Urges Senate to Pass Historic Bipartisan Legislation to Support Veterans Exposed to Toxic Substances

Bipartisan, Bicameral Package Will Deliver Earned Health Care and Benefits to All Generations of Toxic-Exposed Veterans for the First Time in U.S. History

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) – a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve – released the following statement in support of bipartisan legislation the Senate is now considering to deliver all generations of toxic-exposed veterans the health care and benefits they earned for the first time in our nation’s history:

“When veterans are exposed to harmful substances in service to our nation, we must ensure they receive the VA benefits and medical care that they’ve earned.

“As a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, son of a World War II veteran, and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee it’s simply unacceptable that veterans have faced years and even decades of inaction to get this necessary care. The Senate must pass this landmark bipartisan legislation – which will finally ensure all veterans in Michigan and across the country can obtain their long-overdue health care benefits.”  

The legislative package – led by U.S. Senators John Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) – would help ensure all veterans exposed to toxic substances can access essential services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – including by:

  • Expanding VA health care eligibility to post-9/11 combat veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans;
  • Creating a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Adding 23 health conditions related to burn pit and toxic-exposure to the VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expanding the list of locations officially recognized as being related to Agent Orange exposure from service (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll);
  • Strengthening federal research on toxic exposure;
  • Providing additional resources to ensure VA workforce and systems can withstand increased demand;
  • Investing to improve VA claims processing, workforce, and health care facilities; and
  • Bolstering development of the VA’s workforce by increasing the limits of student loan repayment programs and streamlining the hiring process.

The legislation is supported by major veterans organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Peters is a strong advocate for Michigan’s servicemembers and veterans. Last year, Peters was inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor for his efforts to support our nation’s veterans and military. In 2017, Peters was recognized as Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America for authoring the bipartisan Fairness for Veterans Act, which was signed into law. The legislation requires veteran discharge review boards to give liberal consideration to petitions for honorable discharge status if the servicemember has been diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or other related conditions connected to their military service. As of the fall of 2020, more than 1,500 veterans have had their discharges upgraded since his legislation was enacted.

Last year, Peters’ bipartisan bill to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the VA’s caregiver program was enacted into law. Also, Peters’ bipartisan legislation to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans and allow them to use their GI bill benefits to secure a registered apprenticeship was signed into law in 2020. Peters also fought for and helped secure a measure in the national defense bill to expand the Department of Veterans’ Affairs list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.

Peters also introduced bipartisan legislation to protect veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during their service. The Burn Pits Accountability Act would require that servicemembers be assessed for exposure to open toxic burn pits as part of their routine health exams, as this exposure has been known to lead to cancer, cardiovascular toxicity, reproductive issues and neurological damage for numerous Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans. Peters additionally passed out of the Senate his bipartisan CADETS Act to expand the Student Incentive Payment Program eligibility age for financial assistance to cadets who attended one of the six State Maritime Academies and commit to a post-graduation service obligation to include any qualified student who will meet the age requirements for enlistment in the U.S. Navy Reserve at their time of graduation. In return for their commitment to serve, cadets can receive up to $32,000 in this incentive payment funding over four years to help offset the cost of tuition, uniforms, books, and living costs.